Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Film Review--5x2

Francois Ozon’s films have gotten more and more mature as he has aged, and 5x2, released in 2004, shows an artist fully-grown. Seemingly away from some of the more base sex comedy of his younger films, this is his most serious and, often, most heart wrenching of all his films.

5x2 begins in an attorney’s office where a couple is signing divorce papers. They don’t appear to hate one another, but there isn’t enough information to say one way or the other. This is the first of five vignettes that show the degradation of this once loving couple’s relationship. The trick is that the scenes are told in reverse. It doesn’t come off as a senseless gimmick as in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. In Memento, if one tries to watch the scenes in chronological order, the viewer finds a vague and muddled noir that isn’t worth a lot. Because 5x2 is given in five distinct and self-standing scenes that, watched chronologically, give the same story, it takes on a dimension that is more the inverse of a traditional lost love story. Knowing that the finality is not what the couple had initially intended, it allows viewers to get the “surprise” out of the way. There is no twist; the story ends in divorce. However, given the kinds of awful things these two people do to each other, having the ending be just a divorce would not be dramatically satisfactory; there would have to be a murder somewhere. But Gilles (Stephane Freis) doesn’t know that Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), on their wedding night when Gilles was a little too drunk to perform, had sex with some Italian guy at the resort only to come back to get in bed with her husband before he wakes in the morning. Marion doesn’t know that Gilles, when there were complications in Marion’s pregnancy such that they had to induce labor very early, decided that it was better to sit down to a nice steak and a glass of wine than to be with his wife when it’s uncertain whether his wife and/or his baby will survive. Because of this, to see the last (first) scene in the film is a complete subversion of how we normally view romance in film. To see the couple, just falling in love and swimming off together before credits roll (sorry for spoiling the ending, but it’s all pretty obvious, considering that you see what happens afterward, that they’re getting together) is chilly instead of heart warming. There is no hope for this love and, given these people, it’s very unlikely that they can love at all.

I was stunned by the amount of feeling that Ozon was able to stuff into 90 minutes (yes, Ozon understands the idea of keeping things short; as an American movie, this would be 150 minutes instead). It is difficult, when people are treating each other so badly, to keep from dismissing the characters as simply awful, much like what is done in a Neil LaBute film. But they really do, when they’re in one another’s presence, seem to have feelings and care about the other, but their personalities and circumstances prevent them from being whole. It becomes, on the whole, a heartbreaking experience, and one that seems likely all too common in everyday life. Ozon, typically, uses song heavily, although they are French pop songs here and, while I can only spuriously understand what the lyrics say, I have a feeling that there is inherent meaning that I’m not getting. The film is dark in its way, but I think that it is, truly, about the tribulation of love. Highly recommended, but maybe not so much to those having relationship trouble; it may open a line of questioning that neither party may be ready for.